ONTARIO – A mosque inside a church, this would sound irregular in any part of the world. Yet, in Leamington, Ontario, this is a fact that came true since last May.
“We tried to show the community in Leamington, and everywhere in Ontario, that Muslims and Christians are hand to hand,” Taha Halabi, who also regularly attends prayer, told CBC on Wednesday, July 26.
Halabi and many others regularly pray at St. John the Evangelist Anglican Church, where the Muslim community has set up a mosque, thanks to a deal worked out between the two religious communities.
The arrangement started in September when the church invited Syrian refugees to its annual picnic, where their admired the community hall, which is regularly rented out to a host of different groups.
At the time, Rev. Andrew Wilson offered the space to be used as a mosque after learning the Muslim community had been renting a tiny location that was not big enough for their needs.
By the month of Ramadan, which started in late May, Muslims rented the hall to serve as a mosque, and hundreds came to worship during the time of fasting. The mosque now regularly has 30 to 40 people coming in for the prayer service.
Muhammad Asghar is one of them. Last week, he kneeled on the floor alongside a couple of dozen fellow Muslims silently praying. When he looked up and turned his head, he smiled at the Anglican priest kneeling behind him.
“To my amazement, he came and joined me in the prayer,” Asghar said.
Najam Jutt, who helps lead the prayers at the Leamington mosque, has heard of other churches and mosques sharing locations in an effort to help each other out.
“We absolutely love it,” he said. “It highlights how we all work together for a common cause.”
Parishioners at the Anglican church have welcomed their new tenants.
“We’ve welcomed refugees into our country as our brothers, sisters, neighbors and friends, and this is an opportunity to invite them into our church as well,” said Charlotte McDonald, who has been going to St. John the Evangelist for more than 50 years.
She hopes people in the region can learn from the example the two communities have shown.
“We cannot gain peace in this world, until we can live together with one another in one community,” she said.
“That’s just reaching out and saying here we are together — brothers and sisters of this Earth, regardless of religion, creed, color, it doesn’t matter.”